Canada: a brief history of failed GHG reduction policies

Attended a talk entitled Getting Climate Policy Right yesterday, presented by Mark Jaccard and co-sponsored by University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance and the Centre for Environment. Jaccard is a leading expert, not just in Canada but internationally, on climate change policy and economic modelling, and delivered an informative, stimulating and engaging presentation.

Some of the key take-aways:

  • Energy efficiency is expensive – economists who model energy efficiency policies and programs often still fail to take into account a variety of factors that make investment in energy-efficient technologies much more costly.
  • Information programs are not enough – governments have 4 (or five) policy levers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: information campaigns (e.g. the Rick Mercer one-tonne challenge), subsidies, regulations, financial penalties (taxes), and cap and trade schemes (a combo of numbers 3 and 4). We need to see much more of numbers 3-5.
  • Offsets are not working the way they’re supposed to – in the EU cap and trade scheme (or at least ETS1), companies can achieve 15% of their targets via offsets which go to clean development mechanisms as subsidies to developing countries for advanced, cleaner technologies from developed countries. Jaccard showed the audience a slide demonstrating how China is taking advantage of this as a “free-rider,” using the CDMs for hydroelectic projects that would already have been done anyway, and thus failing to have any mitigating impact on their GHG emissions from coal-fired plants.
  • Targets don’t matter – while I think the language used here is a bit too strong (of course targets matter), what Jaccard is saying is that we’ve been setting great targets for years, but have consistently failed to meet them. According to Jaccard, we need clear plans for meeting our targets, absolute caps and minimal or no offsets. Which brings me to…
  • Canada has been failing at greenhouse gas reduction policies since the late 80s – first introduced by the Mulroney government, Canada has gone through more than five policies to reduce GHGs, all of them failures. By the reckoning of Jaccard’s team, the current plan under the Conservatives will have some effect (good news) but not nearly as much as is claimed or needed.

As Jaccard said, Canada has clearly demonstrated it is a follower and not a leader in this area. We should expect to see more action once the US has got implemented some serious GHG reduction policies, which will hopefully be happening soon.

Slavoj Zizek: McCain is Bush with lipstick

The true message to American voters from the Republican Party, says Zizek, is: “you have the right not to understand. We will sell you this rhetoric about populist revolt and fighting Washington, but really you know we have the backroom boys like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and so on, who will take care of things, and it’s better you don’t know about that stuff.”

Zizek, in this interview with Open Source Radio‘s Christopher Lydon, is insightful and entertaining as always.

One of the points Zizek touches on repeatedly is the “totally new” phenomenon of authoritarian capitalism, citing both China and some tendencies in Russia under Putin’s leadership. Contrary to his point that September 11th symbolized the fundamental incorrectness of Francis Fukuyama’s argument in The End of History and the Last Man, it is rather the possibility of authoritarian capitalism that threatens the liberal-democratic-capitalism hegemony. September 11th is completely interpretable from within Fukuyama’s narrative of the direction of history, and in the next fifty years the true test of this narrative will come, as Fukuyama himself suggested it would, from the potentially viable option of non-democratic capitalism.

Maybe Naomi Wolfe is right…

I’ve always been very hesitant to use extreme terms like “police state,” or especially “fascist,” when describing political developments in countries like the USA and the UK that are slowly but steadily eroding citizen’s rights and encroaching on their privacy. But maybe Naomi Wolfe is on the right track after all, with her current ideas around the End of America.

With all the news about illegal wiretapping going on and now this, I’m beginning to change my mind:

End of an empire

Consider that the 20th century saw the emergence of something like an American Empire. What we are seeing in the 21st century is the slow death of this empire. Many people have predicted its impending collapse, but I’m not talking here about the balooning deficit, its proclivity to entering into unwinnable, unpopular and costly foreign wars, its useless war on drugs, its ludicrous adult population imprisonment rate, its poor public school performance, or its broken healthcare system.

The greatest sign that the US is a nation in decline is its apparently increasing desire for joke politicians. I’m not talking about this (though seeing Joe Biden like this makes me worry a bit less about the potential for some video of me in a compromising situation to leak onto the web):


I’m talking about this:

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin with a gun
apparently she's a better shot than Cheney

I’m talking about a gun-toting potential vice-president who thinks climate change isn’t human-caused, and thinks we should teach about the “debate” bewteen creation science and evolution in public school. (I also believe in teaching the controversy.)

I’m talking about GW Bush, the Governator, Dan Quayle, Jesse Ventura, and Ronald Reagan.

For some reason, the US is the only country in the world where, in the race to become the nation’s leader, it’s a serious advantage to not seem too smart.

The good news from Palin’s selection is that the Republicans won’t be able to whine about Obama’s purported “lack of experience” any more. Not that experience is any guarantee of anything: was Bush more experienced than Obama? Perhaps, by most definitions of “experienced.” But that didn’t stop him from making stupid decision after stupid decision.